Ideology In The Balance? Senate GOP conservatives are lamenting the departure of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who has asserted himself as one of the chamber's leading fiscal conservatives throughout his career - in part because his exit could signal broader changes within the Republican Conference. "It's not like losing a man, it's like losing an institution," said Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla. "He's the idea man." The impact of Gramm's departure on the Conference is particularly acute coming on the heels of the announcement by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that he will retire at the end of his current term. "These are dominant, powerful figures that have been in the political landscape for a long time," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. Those who replace them will certainly be less experienced in the ways of the Senate. And they may also be less conservative - and perhaps more likely to buck the conservative congressional leadership that dominates the GOP. As GOP Conference-imposed limits on many leadership terms come into effect in the next Congress, a change in the composition of the new class could have a significant impact.
The retirement of Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., for example, is likely to elevate Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to the Senate. Graham is an admirer of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and although he is a conservative, he may not always be in tune with the current Senate leadership. "He's pretty independent," said Hagel. "I'd look for Lindsey to be a very engaged, active U.S. senator the moment he takes office." Gramm's retirement could produce a spirited primary. One likely contender is Rep. Henry Bonilla, R- Texas. Bonilla is certainly close to the party establishment as a key adviser to President Bush. In fact, some party hands are trying to engineer an early departure for Gramm that would allow Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry to appoint Bonilla to Gramm's seat. Bonilla has already paid a courtesy call on Senate Minority Leader Lott. But neither Bonilla nor a handful of other potential candidates is likely to match Gramm's stamina for seizing the floor and holding up legislation in order to force conservative ideals onto the agenda.
It would be almost impossible for North Carolinians to elect someone more conservative than Helms. Indeed, one leading potential candidate, Elizabeth Dole - who recently switched her voter registration to her home state - took some moderate stands during her failed presidential run. With some national clout, a Senator Dole might cast herself more in the mold of her husband, who often favored legislative dealmaking over confrontation. Senate GOP leaders will want to take a close look at the makeup of the incoming class. During the leadership election in the last Congress, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Larry Craig of Idaho turned back a challenge from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., by a vote of only 26-24, in a race viewed as a referendum on Lott's leadership, who was then majority leader. - by Geoff Earle
Making It Public. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has played it publicly; Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., more quietly. Serious jockeying to become the new Democratic whip has raged for more than two years - driven first by anticipation that Democrats would win the House in 2000, opening up a new leadership post, and more recently by Minority Whip Bonior's campaign for Michigan governor. So when Pelosi collected her 100th public endorsement this week, she made a point of publicizing the milestone, even hiring a bus Wednesday to transport supporters to her Washington residence for a celebration following the day's last floor votes. "Please join us to celebrate reaching the goal of 100 public endorsements at a welcome back and thank you Team Pelosi buffet dinner," read the invitation. According to a Pelosi spokesman, 54 Democratic members attended.
If the election were held today, the winner would need 108 of 215 Democratic Caucus votes to win the post, and both Pelosi and Hoyer have actively courted the handful of uncommitted members, who number fewer than 20. Hoyer, who has previously referred to the announcement of public supporters as a "silly little game," shrugs off Pelosi's tally, noting that members will ultimately cast their ballots in anonymity. "It's a secret ballot and it's a secret ballot for a reason," Hoyer said. "Members want to maintain their relationships with their colleagues." That secrecy has occasionally produced surprises, and Pelosi supporters are mindful of the advice former Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., gave former House Speaker Wright when Wright was running for the job that no pledge of support was valid unless it was made public. "Unless someone promises you his vote in front of witnesses, you should not count on it," Udall said. For the record, Hoyer counts just under 80 public endorsements and a total of 101 supporters if private commitments are added. Pelosi puts her total public and private commitments at 120.
Pelosi's spokesman defends the importance of such tallies. "The 100 public supporters is a reflection of her political strength," he said. "It is not a reflection of her total commitments, which is 120." The dueling endorsement tallies will doubtless continue, but perhaps not much longer. Bonior has stepped up his gubernatorial campaign during the August recess, and both Hoyer and Pelosi believe a leadership race is imminent - although they have been careful to yield to Bonior's own timetable for relinquishing his leadership post. "He made it official," Pelosi said of Bonior's declaration of candidacy for governor. "And now we wait for him." - by Mark Wegner
Back Into The Breach. When former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., announced his decision not to seek re-election in 1994, his intent was to return to St. Louis to practice law and take on more responsibilities as the ordained Episcopalian minister he is. But, as evidenced by his appointment Thursday by President Bush as a special envoy to Sudan, Danforth seems to have had little time for the practice of law - something he once jokingly said lost its appeal when he could not figure out how judges or juries would rule. There was a publicized stint as leader of an investigation into the federal government's handling of the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. He has also been active in local St. Louis civic affairs, serving for a time as head of the St. Louis 2004 task force that is seeking ways to revitalize the city. And he jointly authored a report released last year with former Sens. David Boren, D-Okla., and Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., on behalf of the East-West Institute that urged more cooperation with Russia. That does not leave much time for Bryan Cave, the St. Louis law firm where Danforth began his legal career more than 30 years ago and to which he returned after his Senate tenure ended. In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week while on his way to the announcement of his Sudan assignment, Danforth noted that the firm "has given me a lot of latitude. I've been able to take on practically anything I wanted. As for the hard practice of law, if they were relying on me for that, their malpractice insurance costs would be out of this world." - by Keith White
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